Encouraging naughty

shiba inu dog on caveletti course

Kaiju on the caveletti course

In the fall I met with a couple from the Boston area to talk about their fearful dog, a young Shiba Inu named Kaiju. Friends of mine have a Shiba, an engaging and attentive little dog, so I had an image of the potential that existed for their dog. I realize this doesn’t make sense. A dog’s breed is not necessarily an indicator of what they can achieve (though getting my cockers to herd sheep may take more work than getting my border collie to do it). We know that pit bulls can be fabulous pets and golden retrievers can bite children. But there you have it. I looked at the shy dog and could see flashes of goofy Jasper, my friends’ dog, chasing leaves along the trail and plunging his head into the river to retrieve treats.

Recently I was sent an update about the shy Shiba and was told that their vet has prescribed ‘reverse domination’. Any mention of the word domination causes red flags to pop up in my mind. The word has been misused and inaccurately defined by pop culture dog trainers. I asked what they were told to do and the reply was basically- let the dog be naughty. I loved it!

Once you get past the knee jerk response of, ‘don’t let dogs practice inappropriate behaviors!’ allow the idea to percolate a bit and it makes so much lovely sense.

Dogs that are fearful, shy or anxious will often display this by wariness, reticence to explore, stilted movement, and an overall tightness in their body and posture. What we often define as inappropriate or ‘naughty’ behavior by our standards is normal dog behavior. Dogs chew things, they dig, they jump, they sniff crotches. Behaviors that we frown upon seem good fun to our dogs. When I see a dog sniffing the ground lower her head and shoulder getting ready to drop and roll, I invariably shout out a loud, “NOOOoooo!” I can’t help it. Cleaning unidentifiable, stinky animal poop out of their fur and collar is not my idea of a good time, but I cannot deny the enthusiasm my dogs display when they find something to roll in.

If our immediate response to a fearful dog who is being ‘naughty’ is to attempt to stop them (we stop behaviors with punishment of some kind), we are further hindering them from developing new skills and denying them the opportunity to gain confidence in relation to things in their environment. I don’t think their vet was suggesting they let the dog destroy their sofa but rather to stop putting so much focus on training and control and putting more on play and engagement. The benefits of play for fearful dogs cannot be emphasized enough.

Finding ways to let my fearful dog enjoy himself was key to the progress he has been able to make. Every day includes some kinds of ‘feel good’ activities for him, though I still draw the line at engaging with poop. Some cultural constraints are hard to let go of.


22 comments so far

  1. Poochie Freak Photography on

    Love it 🙂

    When we adopted our nervous collie he was wary of strangers, in particular men. I think he will always be somewhat worried about new situations. I still remember the day we were out for breakfast at a dog-friendly cafe and he pulled me over to a couple who were eating, to see if he could have some food – he came away with some of their buttered toast!

    Now scrounging from strangers is not something I encourage but to see him choose to do this, was a wonderful feeling 🙂 With love, patience and time and the confidence of his younger rescue sister, he is much happier about approaching other dog walkers too, even (kind) men, especially if they are likely to have treats in their pocket.

    And yes, I do quite often see him enjoy rolling in fox poo. Once he’s down, he’s down and it’s still going to need washing off, so he may as well enjoy the experience!


    • fearfuldogs on

      Ah Angela you are a far better person than I. But next time I see them going for the drop into the poop I may recall your words and sigh and tell them to ‘have at it’.

      I call it shy dog license when I let my fearful dog get away with stuff I wouldn’t from my other dogs. To this day when he jumps up and bugs me while I’m sitting here at the computer I can’t help but smile and agree that it probably is time to go out and toss a few frisbees.

  2. Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart on

    I just had a commenting glitch, so I’m trying again.

    I am so happy to hear this update on Kaiju. That family won one of our Never Shock a Puppy prizes, and they used their $75 dog training gift to help pay for a consult with a veterinary behaviorist.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It was great that they won that prize. I think they put it to good use!

  3. kenzohw on

    You made me laugh. I thought that I was the only person that endulge Kenzo and Viva in doing “naughty” things. People usually frawn and think they are not very well-behaved and I am not taking properly care of them. But hey, I love dogs, not people’s percepetion of them, so excuse my for enjoying that my dogs are having fun.

    Very recognizable also with the training, where people many times take it way too serious. Using play and engagement in your training, now thats fun for everybody!

    • fearfuldogs on

      So many dogs live lives of insufferable boredom because of having to adapt to lifestyles that should not necessarily include dogs, or the dog they have. It’s nice when dogs get to live in an environment that allows them to let their fur down and kick up their heels now & again.

  4. Sarah @AnxiousDogs on

    Great post! My dog is fearful of other dogs and I’ve seen GREAT improvements in him since I’ve stopped saying no and making him look at me (do you really want to look away from what you are afraid of?) and started to announce dogs in a jolly voice and say OH BOY!! and start playing tug and skipping! He still gets nervous if I tense up but if I get looser and play his reaction is so much better! I think play is a wonderful thing and anything you can do to help a fearful dog get over his/her fears is wonderful… and it’s so much more fun than constantly saying no!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Sarah! Wouldn’t it be fun to put together a video of all the silly dances and songs we shy dog owners perform to get our dogs to loosen up?

  5. Mayzie on

    Love this! And I think I practiced it without even knowing it. I don’t think discipline is something we have to worry too much about with our shy dogs – at least not initially. So I allow Mayzie to bark it up if she wants (to a certain degree), tear the stuffing out of stuffies (but not the couch), and dig little holes here and there in the yard (grass is replaceable). And secretly, I get a little thrill every time she jumps up (just once) to say hi to someone since she was SO submissive when we first got her. I don’t let her run wild, of course, and I do expect more and more polite behaviors from her as she grows more confident. But instinctively I think I knew at first that she just needed to learn how to be a DOG before she could be MY dog. Whew! Glad I did at least one thing right when we first got her. 🙂

    • fearfuldogs on

      Bet you did way more than just one thing right, but it is nice to hear that even a vet encourages some naughtiness!

  6. Amy@GoPetFriendly on

    We’ve been doing this with Ty for a while. Because he’s normally afraid of strangers I don’t scold him for jumping up on them. A while back we met someone who had treats in her fanny pack. Ty put his paws right on her thigh so he could sniff the pack. I quickly explained why I wasn’t discouraging his behavior and the woman was quite friendly about it. Of course, size matters – allowing the Buster the same latitude could cause problems. Fortunately, he likes strangers!

    • fearfuldogs on

      And once a dog is no longer stressed out around their triggers it makes it easier for us to teach them appropriate skills and behaviors. Too often when a dog is yelled at for doing something (or punished in some other way) they really don’t ‘get’ why it’s happening. They stop doing the bad thing only because they’d stop doing anything when punished, it doesn’t mean they have been able to connect the behavior with the punishment.

      Very cool to hear that Ty is happy enough to scout out the treats on someone!

  7. KathyF on

    Great post! I think we inadvertently hit on this when we realized Sparky wouldn’t play with toys. He looked at me like I was crazy when I tossed a toy to him or tried to put it in his mouth. Now, I’m happy to report he LOVES toys, to the point we have some resource guarding issues. But we’re working through those issues, with lots of treats and peanut butter stuffed bones. He trusts us, and especially my husband, much more than he did in the beginning. And you know what? I trust him a lot more too.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Every step forward often gives us new challenges to work on, that’s for sure.

  8. Jasmine on

    So true. We have this picture in our mind what dogs should be doing … and quite often people would be better off with a doll. Dolls sit pretty, don’t bark, roll in nasty stuff and are generally really well behaved.

    Ok, I also scream when my dog is about to roll in something nasty. But in general we focus on letting our dogs being dogs. (other than the rolling in nasty stuff part) Sometimes I even felt guilty that we are too lenient with them. But they are good dogs and they are happy. So that counts for points, right?

    • fearfuldogs on

      I think we all need to decide what behaviors are required for our dogs and our lifestyle. People with small dogs may not feel the need to work on jumping on people, as much as someone with a larger dog. I personally don’t care if my dogs hang around the table at meals time, some people do, for example.

      I find that some of the most easily managed and responsive dogs may not have a lot of formal training, they’re dogs who enjoy being with people and have not felt the need to tune us out or be afraid of us.

  9. Kristine on

    This is fabulous! I admit when I first saw the word “domination” I made a face. It just shows how context is so important. Words aren’t bad, it’s the social connotations that make them so.

    Anyway, I think the idea of letting a dog just be a dog is a great one. My dog Shiva has an issue with jumping up on people. Since she is often very scared of strangers, jumping up is generally a good sign, it means she feels comfortable with that person. Our trainer told us not to worry about it too much. For one thing, the only people she is ever close enough to in order to jump on are the people who don’t mind one bit!

    Thanks for giving me something else to think about.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Now this is the kind of problem shy dog owners dream of. A dog that wants to get that close to someone. Once a dog is comfortable around a trigger it is so much easier to teach them an alternate behavior anyway.

  10. Deborah Flick on

    Okay. Reverse dominance. I’ll buy that. I like “naughty” better 🙂 I also call it “fearful dog license.” Sadie just gets to do “naughty” stuff she loves that if she was a confident, bold, rocket-proof dog she probably would not. And the advice to make sure your fearful dog has confidence building happy moments every day–even if they are naughty–I’m totally with you on that.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Yup. Sunny flashes his shy dog license at me daily when he bugs me to get up from the computer and toss him a toy. I find it hard to resist.

  11. Sue on

    I love a bit of ‘naughty’ behaviour from my fearful ex puppy mill girl. I remember when she grabbed an open tube of hand cream and ran round the house with it, leaving a trail of cream behind her! I laughed,and cried, with happiness that she felt carefree enough to do it. Poppy doesn’t know what to do with toys, so i make sure any valuable things are out of her reach, and let her pick up things that don’t matter.

    • fearfuldogs on

      That’s a great image of the hand cream incident Sue. Sounds like Poppy knew what to do with that toy!

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